Upon finally getting around to reading The Casual Vacancy (aka the first book J.K. Rowling wrote after the Harry Potter series ended), I had so many thoughts and feelings. Primarily: this book is a lot better than I expected it to be, based on what I’d heard and the criticism I’d read. Also: I can’t wait to see how this is adapted for the screen in the BBC miniseries of the same name.
The story revolves around the residents of a small British village called Pagford. Barry Fairbrother, a member of the village’s council, is a friend to everyone and a general do-gooder. But when he suddenly, tragically dies, the casual vacancy on the council becomes a not-so-casual vacancy for the rest of town.
With each section of the book, more and more characters unravel as Howard and Shirley Mollison’s son, Miles, prepares to run for Fairbrother’s seat — as well as Simon Price and Colin Wall. But each person running has their own secrets — secrets which are subsequently spilled online, posted anonymously by their very own children, who happen to despise them.
There are far too many characters to name, too many relationships to get into and too many domino-effect casualties to mention. But I enjoyed it. As she did in the Harry Potter novels, Rowling continued her theme of children vs. adults (and the children generally winning). Plus, the interconnectedness of the characters reminded me of other stories that stem from the British mainland (Love Actually, anyone?). In the end, the best characters were crushed.
A lot was changed for the TV adaptation. Those who disliked the book will likely tell you the series was far superior. Those who were fans of the book will tell you the series was awful. I’m here to tell you the series wasn’t awful but it was far less grim than the novel.
The novel is dark and twisty, much like the end of the Harry Potter series. I thought each character was an awful person, and the end was truly tragic and morbid. That, I believe, is the reason that producers made the series less severe. Of the two deaths at the end of the novel, only one dies in the show. I suppose all that death would have been too much for the average viewer.
Most of the other changes were due to time restrictions, I’m sure. The series was three hours, but certainly could have used a fourth. I was upset that one of the book’s characters was left out entirely and that some of the big “meeting” and “party” scenes were combined. The series also added extra relationships between characters. For example, Barry Fairbrother was an uncle to some of the kids in the show and a half-brother to another character. These relationships were never established in the book.
On some level, both the series and novel may seem as though they have no “point.” But it seems to me that any vacancy is anything but casual, and that’s what should keep readers and viewers on their toes.